The Cat has always been bemused by the claim that so-and-so “has killed his own people”. This line of argument is usually deployed in advance of an invasion, air campaign or the implementation of a ‘no fly zone’. When one unpacks this argument, it is always found wanting and reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of the establishment’s rationale for military adventurism. Sometimes the phrase “he’s another Hitler” will be added for dramatic effect.
In the run up to Gulf War I, we were told Saddam Hussein had “killed his own people”. When Gulf War II rolled around, he also become “another Hitler”. By his “own people”, the warmongers and the news media were referring specifically to the Kurds. But Saddam Hussein didn’t see the Kurds as “his own people” and he wasn’t alone in this: it is a view that had been consistent in Baghdad throughout the history of Iraq, since it became nominally independent from Britain in 1932.
The Kurds (led by the powerful and corrupt Barzani clan) had constantly been in conflict with Baghdad since independence and had been waging a guerilla war in Northern Iraq for decades. A full blown war between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government took place in 1961. But this isn’t to say that Kurds didn’t participate in Iraqi politics or in government. They did. General Bakr Sidqi, for example, was the head of Iraq’s army. He led the forces that participated in the Simele Massacre of 1933, which saw thousands of Assyrians slaughtered as they fled towards the Syrian border. Sidqi, King Ghazi and the Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, didn’t see the Assyrians as “their people” either. Al-Gaylani would return as Prime Minister in a coup in 1941 and enter into a short-lived pact with Nazi Germany until he was overthrown by the British in the same year.
Western news media – especially British and American news media – have repeated ad infinitum the claim that Bashar al-Assad has “killed his own people” to rally public support for official military intervention and the eventual toppling of the Syrian president. That Assad has killed his own people isn’t in doubt, but his forces have also killed people that the West ironically sees as its allies. Fighters from the al-Nusra Front, for example.
Britain and the United States have historically offered much support to national leaders that have “killed their own people”. Many of these leaders were military strongmen that were entertained by British and American governments because of their impeccable anti-communist credentials. Below is a partial list.
- Nursultan Nazarbayev (current president of Kazakhstan)
- Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan, 1989 – 2016). His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, is just as if not more violently repressive.
- Suharto (Indonesia, 1967 – 1998)
- Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire, 1965 – 1997)
- General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (Chile, 1973 – 1989)
- Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde (Spain, 1936 – 1975)
- The Greek Colonels (1967 – 1974)
- Air Chief Marshal Hosni Mubarak (Egypt, 1981 – 2011)
- Colonel Anwar Sadat (Egypt, 1970 – 1981)
- General Zia al-Haq (Pakistan, 1978 – 1988)
- Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic, 1942-1952)
- Jose Efrain Rios Montt (Guatemala, 1982 – 1983)
- Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Iran, 1941 – 1979)
The conflict in Syria, like that in Iraq has been subject to the most deceitful, one-sided coverage with the siege and aerial bombardment of Aleppo becoming the focus of some pretty blatant propaganda. In short, we’re getting a raw deal from our news providers. Patrick Cockburn in today’s Independent writes:
The dominance of propaganda over news in coverage of the war in Syria has many negative consequences. It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.
In the same paper Robert Fisk writes:
But it’s time to tell the other truth: that many of the “rebels” whom we in the West have been supporting – and which our preposterous Prime Minister Theresa May indirectly blessed when she grovelled to the Gulf head-choppers last week – are among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East. And while we have been tut-tutting at the frightfulness of Isis during the siege of Mosul (an event all too similar to Aleppo, although you wouldn’t think so from reading our narrative of the story), we have been willfully ignoring the behaviour of the rebels of Aleppo.
Our leaders, though they may claim otherwise, have also “killed their own people” and we don’t need to cast our minds back that far. The brutal regime of cuts to social security by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition (2010-15) drove people to commit suicide, and although these people died by their own hand, it was the government’s policies that were ultimately responsible for their deaths. Why? Because this is a feature of what Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant called “symbolic violence”, which gets the victim to carry out acts of violence against themselves, thus obviating the need for actual physical violence from the state. It’s a pretty clever trick. No?
Governments are more than happy to kill their own people, even in so-called ‘democracies’. It isn’t confined solely to certain Middle Eastern countries.
Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L.J.D. (2003). Symbolic violence. na. Available at: http://cges.umn.edu/docs/Bourdieu_and_Wacquant.Symbolic_Violence.pdf Accessed 29/2/16